First pushes on as Virgin chases judicial review

Marion Dakers
FIRSTGROUP has been told to carry on with its preparations to take over the West Coast Main Line, despite a looming court battle launched by losing bidder Virgin Trains.

The Department for Transport has assured FirstGroup that the handover contract will be signed off soon, and that it should press on with plans to take control of operations on the intercity rail route from December, as expected.

Meanwhile, Virgin Trains will find out this week whether its application for a judicial review into the franchise decision can proceed.

The company has argued that the government’s decision making did not properly consider the risks of each bidder.

It also maintains that FirstGroup’s bid to run the route, which came in at £1bn more than Virgin’s, is structured in a way that could make it lucrative for First to abandon the contract before the 13-year franchise is complete.

Virgin Trains yesterday hit out at claims by First and the department for transport that it was only complaining because it lost the auction.

Chief executive Tony Collins said in a statement: “We have had several meetings over the last two or three years where we have expressed our concerns over the bid process, how it evaluates the bids and how it leads to the sorts of failures we have seen on East Coast with National Express and GNER.”

“We certainly have dates of meetings, follow-up letters and obviously our notes of what was discussed.”